Monday, October 19, 2009

psalm for the downcast (2)

Last term, when I was immersed in almost constant despondency, I went for a memorable walk. Every step had to be forced against what felt like a resisting invisible barrier. I tried to pray, to think, to get some kind of handle on what I was feeling, but my thoughts were scattered and sluggish.

Into my troubled thoughts broke Psalm 103, plucked from my memory by God's Spirit. I found myself saying it out loud: "Praise the LORD, O my soul ... who forgives all your sins ... who redeems your life from the pit...". My mood was unchanged, but the words fed my tiny spark of faith until it burned a little brighter.

At that moment, I realised how suitable psalms of praise are for the discouraged. I've always encouraged those who are depressed to learn and pray psalms of lament, like Psalm 130. But I've never thought of suggesting psalms of praise. I guess I assumed such psalms would seem flippant, insensitive or irrelevant.

But words - especially God's words! - are powerful things. As you say them out loud, they make their way into your insides. You might not feel like praising God, but it's good to speak words of praise even when you don't feel like it. It's good to exhort your soul to praise God. It's good to encourage others to praise God. As you do, you're helped to stop dwelling on yourself and your emotions and to start looking at God and acting in love.

Psalm 103 packs a punch for the desolate, for it reminds us of 6 truths we often forget and need to preach to our souls when we're tempted to despair:

  • God's character is unchanging
    (however I feel)
  • God's blessings are unfailing
    (though they may seem to have failed me)
  • God's salvation is a historical fact
    (even when I'm tempted to doubt it)
  • I am small, frail and finite
    (it's not all about me and how I'm feeling)
  • God's compassion and grace are infinite and unending
    (far bigger than this mood)
  • God rules sovereignly over all things
    (including my life right now)

Here it is.

Psalm 103

Of David.

Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits-
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD's love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children's children-
with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.

Praise the LORD, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.
Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.
Praise the LORD, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the LORD, O my soul.

image is from withrow at flickr


Gordon Cheng said...

Great psalm Jean. Thanks for your honesty, and thanks especially for pointing us to this part of God's word.

Fifi is looking forward to seeing you this weekend.

mattnbec said...

Oooh - so far, you've scored two from two as far as my favourite, most encouraging Psalms go! I love this Psalm for the same reasons you express here.

It's a simple thing, but when I'm feeling despondent I find it helpful that the two Psalms (103 and 130) have similar numbers too - it helps me to remember which ones they are and find them when I need to read them!

Jean said...

How about that Bec!!

And yes, I agree, the numbers of the psalms help me remember them both too!! Have you got any other favs I should know about?

My other fav for times of discouragement is always Psalm 42. The kids and I are learning this one at the moment.

Jean said...

Thanks, Gordo.

I'm looking forward to seeing Fiona too!!

mattnbec said...

Psalm 42?! Make that three from three!!! Are you somehow able to get inside my brain? I love that one, as I suspect I've said here before, particularly for verses 5 11 (repeating v5 which is in 43:5 too) for the way they do 'the preaching to yourself' thing.

Psalms 46 (reminder of both God's power and presence with those who are his) and 51 (reminder of God's forgiveness) are pretty good. So are the ones which recount God's faithfulness throughout Israel's history (can't think of the numbers at the moment). Having said 'my favourites', I do find myself feeling a little heretical choosing favourites - it's all scripture and it all speaks to me! And in practice, I remember the good bits about different Psalms when others mention them.

When I'm feeling discouraged, often a helpful thing to do with the Psalms, is listen to them. Sons of Korah have done us a great service in writing music for the Psalms and it helps me to remember them better.

And I find the lyrics of Ginny Owens to be inspirational in expressing faithfulness amidst struggle/suffering too. Not Psalms as such, but great musical reflections on scripture and life, as the Psalms are. She's well worth a listen if you've never heard her material.

love Bec

Jean said...

Psalm 51 - a great fav, psalm 46 - I'll have to have a look.

Ooh, Ginny Owens! I love hearing about more good Christian music!! I'm getting a bit tired of playing my current two favourite albums (Jars of Clay, Jane Saunders) over and over, though I love them dearly. I'll have to check out Ginny Owens! :)